Day 13: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

A timeless tale told with classic Mickey Mouse.

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Day 13! Unfortunately for me today, I’m experiencing some technical difficulties that threw a wrench into whatever plans I had for you- the readers, tonight. In lieu of that, let’s briefly discuss an appropriately themed Mickey Mouse featurette.

The Lowdown:

Series: Mickey Mouse films

Episode/Short film: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Productions, 1983

AniB’s thoughts:

As I sit here, forced to use another computer with my own laptop suddenly shelved, I was reminded forcefully of A Christmas Carol, the timeless Charles Dickens novel and his incorrigible old miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, this being an animation blog, there was some famous adaptations of this tale, but I’m partial to this particular telling of the story, which has some interesting facts to go with it.

This short film was the first Mickey Mouse theatrical release in 30 years at the time- as the iconic mouse had not starred in a film since 1953. Despite that, it much more prominently featured Scrooge McDuck in the role of you guessed it- Scrooge, playing the parsimonious money-lender in the most natural of fits. Curiously, this was the first time Alan Young voiced Scrooge, a role he’d become more famous for in 1989’s DuckTales and one that he’d hold to his death. Conversely, this was the last time Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck- and as the last original voice actor from the early era of classic Mickey shorts, it was a bit of the changing of the guard, in hindsight.

So what of the content itself? This film emulates Dickens’ classic tale using classic Disney characters in the casting roles, with Mickey himself as the hard-working and underpaid Bob Crachit, Scrooge’s right hand man. Through the film, Scrooge’s miserly habits are played up, and he is confronted by the famous ghosts in the story- first his late partner Bob Marley (who Goofy plays), who sends a warning to the duck to change his ways, and in turn he is followed by the three other ghosts of  past, present and future. The past one is none other than Jiminy Cricket- a good choice given his role as “moral compass and guidance” in Pinocchio; the ghost of Christmas present is Willie the Giant- who appeared way back in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free; and the ghost of Christmas future is an obvious choice given the context. (Spoilers: it’s Pete.)

I think the biggest shortcoming here is that while it’s billed as a Mickey Mouse film, he’s really much more of a supporting character in this while the story focuses on Scrooge- much like the actual Christmas Carol. That said, it’s a whimsical take on a classic novel, and a good adaptation from an often overlooked era in Disney’s history- the early 80’s. I had this short on VHS growing up- so there’s some nostalgia there for me personally, but it’s truly a pleasant watch for this time of year, and features both some old-school animation and talented voice acting, which makes it stand out a bit more now than it may have at the time.


Like what you see? Have you seen this short? Leave a comment!

Day 12: Review/Rant: School Days

A polarizing show leads to a far less than enjoyable watch.

Day 12! We’re halfway to Christmas Eve already, and as we reach the halfway point of this calendar between today and tomorrow, it wouldn’t be complete without at least one-old fashioned critic’s assault. That’s right- today’s a juicy breakdown of a highly controversial anime, one that yours truly is happy to dig into (despite putting it off for a long, long time.)

The Lowdown:

Show: School Days

Studio/years aired: TNK, 2007

AniB’s thoughts: “Another day, another adaptation.” Or at least that’s what I’d like to say, except when the show in question is an utter trainwreck and I steeled myself to watch it on a critic’s honor mixed with morbid curiosity. This is unequivocally a bad watch, but the “why” of it is slightly more nuanced, like layers of a rotten onion that’s been left out in the sun, reminding everyone why it stinks so much. Unfortunately, it’s time to delve into the morass and figure out just what went wrong here.

Before really tearing into the details though, a little background as usual is helpful. First off, School Days never received a stateside dub- and it’s just as well, not only for content reasons but also for critical reasons. And as with any truly bad show, there’s always some interesting stories associated with it- in the case of this one, its infamously violent ending that caused the show’s final episode to be removed off the air for several networks in Japan. This caused the footage to be replaced rather infamously on at least one station with stock imagery, including a Norwegian ferry spawning the “nice boat” meme on the internet, and while this is a fun little piece of trivia, it only begins to scratch the surface of the “why”.

So here’s the heart of it: When I graded out the show, it got points for having the bare bones of a plot that linked together cohesively and achieved its (poorly conceived) goals, but between the cast I wanted to strangle, the janky, awkward transitions into more and more ridiculously stupid situations caused by quite possibly the worst protagonist in anime, Makoto, and the fact that it was an utterly banal experience devoid of much enjoyment.

Among numerous flaws, a major issue lies in where the plot wants to go. It initially wants to be a high school romance…but doesn’t do that well, devolving into a bad harem anime…but also does that terribly, and then after enduring 11 episodes of mind-numbingly bad writing and poor character decisions, that final episode I mentioned goes for a shock twist slasher ending that makes utterly no sense. Maybe it was supposed to be relieving, but I was under the impression I’d wasted hours of my life watching something so that you, the readers, didn’t have to. If this was the proverbial coal in your Christmas stocking for a show, this one is it! Do yourselves a favor and check out almost any other show you can roll on a roulette wheel. It’s likely to have better odds of being good than this unfortunate production.


Animation Quality: Average 2-D anime for its release year (2007); it’s not outstanding in this department, but “adequate” would be a better term. Sadly, this is the best part of this wretched show, which is damning praise considering how remarkably average said animation is. It’s also used in some painfully cringy scenes through this show to just unfortunate effect, and yes, there’s some fanservice in there that’s utterly forced. 2/5 points.

Characters: This may be the least engaging, least sympathetic cast I’ve ever had to cover, which is saying something considering “gems” like Fanboy and Chum Chum are part of that listing.

Makoto Iko is the lead character; a freshman in high school whose natural interest in girls at his age becomes more and more perverted due to both the actions of others and his own misdeeds. He winds up becoming the center of a badly conceived harem and unable to fix his passions and poor decision making, he’s a truly awful character who garners little sympathy with little development. Was this intentional? Probably, but he’s so poor for a lead that following his moves becomes dreadfully difficult after not too many episodes…and this isn’t a long show!

Kotonoha Katsura and Sekai Saionji are your two main girls. One is Makoto’s first romantic interest, who is initially reserved, well endowed and from a rich family-but after events happen, she snaps mentally, trying to possess Makoto. It’s always the quiet ones who lose it the hardest…

Sekai on the other hand is Makoto’s classmate who spurns on the initial relationship between Makoto and Kotonoha, but later develops her own feeling for the boy, leading to a confusing and depressing arc for an initially energetic girl. By the end, she’s also gone off the deep end in her affections with who else- Makoto. In the end, nobody’s really happy, everyone goes insane, and then with the aformentioned infamous ending in my thoughts, everyone winds up dead or insane. Yay.

The supporting cast for this show is both unmemorable and doesn’t really do anything to raise the merits of this unfortunate lead trio. 0.5/5 points.

Story: Gets a bare minimum of a half-point for having a narrative that actually goes from point A to point B. I don’t have much more to say about it other than I’ve seen episodic shows with more interesting episode to episode plot-lines than this overarching story…and those had nothing to do with each other! Jumping from bad romance to bad harem to bad slasher at the end, it’s a depressing slog filled with unlikable characters, poor decisions and utterly surreal outcomes. Then again…it’s based on a VN that plays out like this, but I doubt even the game is as poorly executed as this show’s plot! Just eye-opening in the worst of ways. 0.5/5 points.

Themes: A trail of mentally broken girls and an obliviously malicious main character is not a good look for any show, especially one begging to have some scrap of positive momentum in it. There’s no levity and no thematic brilliance here in this clunker of a script. 0/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Brutal writing combined with a terrible cast and an impossibly inane story is quite insulting, to quote this category. Unremarkable music does nothing to save this score, or this show, and perhaps the biggest affront is being “bad, boring and a waste of time.” That’s exactly what School Days accomplished. 0/5 points.

Overall: 3/25 (12%): “It’s a show”- that’s the best I can say here. What a disaster on every level. From vapid storytelling to a downright unlikable cast, and a show that seems unable to make up its mind what it wants to be- and then executes none of it well, it’s a forgettable, frustrating and poor outing of a show. The best part is when it’s over, frankly.


Like what you see? Do you agree or disagree with this piping-hot criticism? Leave a comment!

Day 11: Review: Adventure Time

The review of a modern-day titan.

Day 11! So for today’s calendar pick, I wanted to finally dig into an important show review that I’ve wanted to do since it wrapped up earlier this year- and that is Adventure Time. This show was the flagship of Cartoon Network’s for the majority of the 2010’s and is both popular and influential. Let’s get into it.

The Lowdown:

Show: Adventure Time

Studio/network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2010-2018

AniB’s thoughts: Well, it’s the end of an era. This show, perhaps the most iconic piece of Western animation in the past 10 years is finally, officially completed and admittedly, it’s a bit surreal to consider this the case. Yours truly was still in high school when the ball got rolling on this series, and now to see it over really feels like the final guard of that early 2010’s era of animation is finished as the final portion of the decade plays out.

On the topic of evaluating the show itself, Adventure Time is certainly unique. It evolved from a simple plot-of the day adventure-action show in its first season to a full-blown post-dystopian fantasy with elements of science fiction, mystery, comedy, surrealism and a whole slew of other things as the show immersed itself in a large, deep cast of characters and an expansive world, not only in Ooo itself, but beyond and across time as well. I think at a certain point it became rather difficult to just pick up the series due to the enormity it grew to, but it was also interesting to watch it grow and evolve to its natural conclusion by the end of it all, between finding a point at which it finally felt ready to stop, between the resolution of series-long plot threads and the sense that while it had once defined a network, now it was being pushed out by the wave of cartoons it had helped influence.

It would be impossible to cover all the plot threads, character arcs, overall elements and moving parts and everything else that happened in the show in one review, but it would be accurate to say the show lived up to its simple title: “Adventure Time.” Seriously, you never quite knew what to expect episode to episode, and this sort of originality, combined with ever increasing plot and character complexity as the seasons wore on kept the formula fresh- a difficult feat for any show over multiple seasons. Towards the end of its run, it suffered from the same wonky release schedule Cartoon Network shows had become by and large shoehorned into in the latter half of the decade, thanks in no small part to monopolized scheduling around a certain show, but it maintained its momentum to the end, capping it all with an excellent finale, which I’m sure fans of the show found satisfying and rich in details.

As for anyone ever curious about this series, it’s not a bad time to jump in if you want a long watch. This show is not without its flaws, meanderings, weird episodes, bad episodes and pacing issues here and there, but overall, there’s a reason it became so influential. Finally…can you believe Nickelodeon passed on the pilot of this show for the all-time terrible Fanboy and Chum Chum? I can’t either, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20 (and I’ve got an older rant of the latter on this site as well.) So grab your friends, go to some very distant lands, and see what’s in store with Jake the Dog and Finn the Human…


Animation: 2-D modern animation. This is the show that launched the “CalArts” style you might hear people complain about on the internet, or at least in animation circles, but as the cliche goes, “success breeds copycats.” And in the case of this show, the style works for what it’s doing, though some may find it far too stylized, and that is okay too. Overall, it does a good job enhancing what the story wanted to tell and in a creative way that mostly enhanced it, which is nice. There’s a wide variety of colors here, and the show even experimented with some different styles during some episodes. 4.5/5 points.

 

Characterization: We’d be here all day if I went through every last character in this show, what they do, their plot threads and how they are important. The later seasons do a lot of this, devoting entire episodes to side characters you’d never think twice about, even giving them mini-character arcs and in general, broadening the scope of this vast world they created. But as for the leads:

Finn the Human is an energetic, heroic boy who lives in a tree fort with his best friend, a magical talking dog named Jake. They go on adventures together, protect princesses, find cool treasures and have lots of fun- and while I’m simplifying this description a lot, this is essentially what they do. Finn’s story in particular is a unique sort of coming of age, as he grows a few years older during the course of the show, learns a great deal about who he is, his background, goes on many strange, death defying adventures, and in the end, is always true to being a hero.

Jake the Dog as mentioned is Finn’s best friend. He’s much more laid back and absentminded for the most part than his buddy, but has magical stretching powers which allow him to form different shapes and contort his body mass and muscles to radically different sizes and shapes, though this has limits. He’s got a variety of oddball interests and talents, such as playing the viola, and loves to make great sandwiches. He too has an interesting past which is revealed in bits and pieces during the course of the series.

The most common person Finn and Jake help out is Princess Bubblegum, the ruler of the Candy Kingdom. As her name describes, she actually is a sentient girl made of bubblegum, but full of surprises and a long history. She balances her rule with a passion and deep knowledge of science and technology, which she uses in everything from enhancing her candy citizen’s lives to defense of said domain. There’s a whole lot more I could say about her, but again…spoilers.

Finally of your “main cast” there’s Marceline, a vampire girl.  Originally a human, Marcy’s lived for over 1000 years, and has a generally easygoing, prankster nature. She loves to jam out on her axe guitar and is a talented musician. Additionally, her vampire powers make her a formidable fighter, but like all such beings, she has a fatal weakness to sunlight. After initially getting off on the wrong foot with Finn and Jake, the trio become good friends, and she also has a strong relationship revealed over time with Princess Bubblegum…

There are countless other individuals of varying importance that could be mentioned and probably should be mentioned, but the last one for this review is the Ice King. A deluded old warlock driven mad by his magical cursed crown, this frosty regent has a desperate need for attention and a want for princesses (at least early on). Sporting eclectic interests like playing the drums and writing fanfiction, the king’s role is not so much an antagonist as it is something else entirely…and his story arc is quite unbelievable.  4.5/5 points.

 

Story: Episodic and overarching plot elements intersect in this long-running series. This show’s narrative is more event and character based with several long running plot threads tying together disparate arcs, but while a complex and intricate world is created in Adventure Time, sometimes it’s difficult to keep everything straight, especially as the seasons go on. They kept it fresh though! 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s a lot packed into the gills of this show. Most of your basic sorts of themes appear (friendship, love, overcoming fears, etc.) but there’s also some deeper stuff just hiding in this show that is terrific for something airing on a kid’s network. Mostly, this is entertainment, and it can be very trippy entertainment, but there’s nuggets of some complex material especially as the seasons wear on and to the end. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This show knew its audience, and got slightly more mature along with it. Mostly smart writing, a few questionable sorts of things happen here and there, and it might have a bit of a curve to properly engage in this show now given its length. All in all, not bad intagibles. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 21/25 (84%): With an entire large body of work to evaluate, Adventure Time holds up fairly well with scrutiny and is a very good show despite some flaws and the glare of fame’s spotlight on it. With its conclusion, it may make for a nice long watch, but either way, its influence cannot be denied as it pertains to animation.


Like what you see? Thoughts on Adventure Time? Leave a comment!

 

Day 10: Movie Review: The Polar Express

Just like that, we’re 10 days into this countdown (and 10 days closer to Christmas!) I do hope everyone who’s been following along regularly has enjoyed the Advent Calendar so far, and in turn, I’m having a blast writing for you, the readers.

The Lowdown:

Movie: The Polar Express

Studio/year released: Castle Rock Entertainment (primarily), for Warner Bros., 2004

AniB’s thoughts:

Today’s pick takes us to more of a modern-day Christmas classic film- The Polar Express, which in one of the more strange things to think about, is already 14 years old as a film. I recalled seeing this in IMAX when it first came out as a kid…and I have to say, it had some really effective 3-D, especially compared to other films at the time. With perfect acuity, I can remember the wild scene in which the train has a heart pounding race to stop on time before smacking into a herd of caribou- and how real that felt with the effects of the film. So on this review, I can at least testify to the intended effects of the movie when it was in theaters, given that many who have seen it in the years since probably know it mostly from TV airings and re-runs.

Now, there was a lot of interesting notes about this film, starting with the astounding voice acting clinic Tom Hanks puts on in performing 6 different roles. While Hanks’ voice acting resume will always be best remembered for his role as Woody in the Toy Story franchise, there’s no doubt in my mind that his performance in this film is underrated. Of these roles, Hanks most notably was the conductor- and this performance never gets old, even upon rewatching this movie quite a few times.

Another notable fact was the animation style. If you got that weird “valley of the uncanny” feeling, it’s probably because this was the first film to be entirely done in live-action- motion capture animation- the same type used to create things like Caesar in the revived Planet of the Apes trilogy a number of years later. It’s held up decently, but it’s a highly unusual animation choice which aged better on things such as the train itself as opposed to the character models themselves. If you really want an idea of how different this 3-D modeling is from the same era, The Incredibles released at the same time in theaters. You’ll notice how much more “cartoony” Pixar’s modeling was compared to this specific style if you compare the two films side by side.

Finally, this film was based off the famous 1985 picture book of the same name. I remember loving the title as a kid, flipping through the richly colored images that evoked the magic and wonder of a cold Christmas Eve full of unknown adventure. In turn, catching those specific scenes I remembered from the book was a treat, and this was not unintentional, as Chris Van Allsburg, the author, also served as an executive producer for the film.

The Polar Express isn’t some cinematic masterpiece, but it is very successful as an entertaining and engaging Christmas film that stays true to the source material that it came from, combined with some terrific voice acting (chiefly from Tom Hanks) and a very underrated soundtrack. It’s a great family pick for anyone who hasn’t seen it and for those who have, perhaps grab a mug of hot chocolate and get on board once again. You’re never too old for a trip to the North Pole.


Animation: 3-D motion capture animation. It’s in a bit of a weird spot being both a unique and highly innovative technique at the time (in fact, this was a record-breaking budget for an animated film at its release to the tune of $165 million), but also one that has an uneven legacy, particularly when it comes to character modeling. In the end, time wins slightly over innovation here, with the caveat that it did bring to life a wintry night on a train oh so well in terms of atmosphere. 3.5/5 points.

 

Characters: Simple book, simple cast. The main protagonist is never actually named (he’s even credited as “Hero Boy”) but he’s noted for both his skepticism in his belief of Santa Claus’s existence and his signature blue bathrobe he wears during the story, of which one pocket hole is ripped.

Accompanying him in this film are the hero girl (yes, that’s her credit too) and Billy, another boy who has the distinction of being one of only two named characters in the entire affair (and the other is the big man in red himself.) The former exhibits a powerful belief in Santa, and a kind, generous spirit but needs more confidence and conviction in leading others, while the latter finds himself in need of good companions and the assurance also that Santa is real.

Then there’s the conductor. A mysterious man with many professed years of service on the locomotive, he’s full of advice, old stories and mystery, all while serving as both the director of the train and the host to a number of young passengers. He’ll make sure the train gets to the North Pole on time too…

All in all, a solid, small cast with a few other important side characters, which would be spoilers for those who haven’t seen this film, and remembered by those who have seen this film. 3.75/5 points.

 

Story: Pretty simple given its source material: a boy in his apparent disbelief is shocked one Christmas Eve by the appearance of a large steam locomotive outside his house and the summons to go to the North Pole. Naturally, the film expands upon this a bit, but a simple premise with decent execution that has a faithful interpretation. 3.5/5 points.

 

Themes: Primarily, “do you believe?” The film is a heart-warming sort of affair in which these kids find out a lot about themselves and learn some important things about approaching life and also about the spirit of the season, and it’s really charming. If you’re looking for some mind-blowing stuff, this isn’t the film, but holiday fare rarely is. 3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Good music score, very easy for all ages to watch, a Christmas film that’s neither too preachy or too sappy to boot. It’s all around solid. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 19/25 (76%): Nostalgia or not, this is and was a pretty fun Christmas film even now. It’s a great movie to get into the spirit of the season if you haven’t already, and fairly easy to find this time of year (December at the time of writing) to watch.


Like what you see? Big Polar Express fans out there? Leave a comment!

Day 9: Review: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

The wild Italian adventure of the classic thief and his friends.

Day 9! In practical terms, it’s the second Sunday of Advent, and in AniB terms, we’re over 35% into this calendar countdown. Once again, today’s pick veers slightly off the Christmas path in favor of a recent iteration of a classic anime/manga series from Japan- it’s none other than Lupin the 3rd, or Lupin III, or any other variant of that name you can come up with.

The Lowdown:

Show: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

Studio/years aired: TMS Entertainment, 2015-2016 (JP)

AniB’s thoughts:

In Italy, there is a rich tradition and connection to the ideas of Christmas. This is probably in no small part due to the location of the Vatican and the heavily majority Roman Catholic population, but also because of numerous saints, popes and iconic churches from over the centuries. However, today’s review is about a very different sort of Italian adventure- that of the master thief Arsene Lupin III and his quest for the greatest treasures of the historical peninsular boot.

Lupin III is actually a famous, older Japanese manga that has had several iterations in anime over the years, and this was until this past year (2018) the most recent foray, until Part 5 came into being. Fortunately for viewers unaware of Lupin’s existence prior to this show, it does not require any sort of background knowledge of prior events or previous tales in the franchise to thoroughly enjoy and follow, which is quite nice- as heavy lore can often bog down long-running or expansive series when it comes to new participants.

In the case of Lupin III’s Italian adventure, it’s a delightful blend of high-stakes missions and chases, unusual twists, some heavy influence from the James Bond franchise, and a number of competing character arcs that all come to a head in an unforeseen way. Through it all, Lupin has trusted right hand Jigen – master marksman- at his side, and is also joined at time by Goemon Ishikawa III, a master swordsman trained in the way of the samurai (and he gets some crazy feats with his blade), as well as Fujiko Mine- Lupin’s on and off again romantic interest and one of his closest associates. That said, Fujiko’s a woman who does things on her own terms, and she’s not afraid to play dirty to get what she wants in terms of the treasure, making her more of a friendly allied party with her own self-interests to Lupin’s usual capers. Of course, no great thief has made it without a worthy adversary- and that role is held by Inspector Zenigata, an Interpol agent whose life’s work is to pursue and capture Lupin, something he carries out with unabated zeal and a surprising amount of humanity.

For me, Lupin III being introduced through this show was a satisfying experience, and the arc itself is a fun adventure, combining both elements of stand-alone episodic pieces and a larger overarching story, narrative and character development. It’s a delightfully refreshing watch as well compared to a great number of other modern anime that exist; it’s not about schools, cute girls, generic shonen battles (though there are some terrific fights), or any of that (which is still great, don’t get me wrong); it’s got a style all its own, and it has fun doing it. And I think most people over the age of 13 would probably have a lot of fun with Lupin’s adventures as I did, and The Italian Adventure is a terrific show to enjoy and perhaps launch into the franchise.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. That said, Lupin’s got some style that feels almost a bit like Western comics or animation for the most part, but quality, and in a way it just evokes that thriller feeling throughout the show, which is terrific. The colors pop, the character models are distinct and attractive, and the aniamtion here makes a difference in bringing the style of the series to life. 4.75/5 points.

 

Characters:

I did cover in brief most of the main cast in my thoughts, but for a bit more detail:

Arsene Lupin III is the descendant of the famed Arsene Lupin of literary fame; like his forefather he’s a master thief who can and will steal any treasure that strikes his fancy. He’s so good that various police and law enforcement agencies the world over have not only failed to stop him, but even trace him for the most part…except Inspector Zenigata. Lupin’s got a keen intellect, a weakness for women, a surprisingly affable nature, and is a pretty good shot himself, despite having Jigen around.

Speaking of which, Daisuke Jigen dresses like a mafia hitman and has the style of one too- he’s a cool customer with a gun, his signature fedora draped over his eyes. Lupin’s main partner in crime, he’s a reliable hand with some more common sense than his friend (though they’re all slightly crazy), has a liking for a smoke and a good drink, and is reliable on big missions.

Goemon as mentioned in my thoughts is a master swordsman. A man of few words who follows his own code, he is a frequent ally of Lupin’s main team and provides some terrifyingly strong combat support to missions. He also brings a bit of traditional Japanese flair to a decidedly non-Japanese anime, which is interesting in itself.

Then there’s Fujiko Mine. In the Italian Adventure, she’s the independent, beautiful and self-interested on and off member of Lupin’s gang, preferring big treasure, the good life, and some excellent scoops of information in the process. (She’s also got a motorcycle, which is pretty darn cool.)

Finally, the usual main cast is rounded out by Inspector Zenigata, a man with a zealous conviction to bring Lupin to justice and the eyebrows to match. Called “Pops” affectionately by his archenemy, this Interpol agent relentlessly pursues the master thief to the ends of the earth, without ever slowing up. Despite this, he’s shown to be a good man with a lot of heart, and some surprising skills, such as cooking.

This arc of Lupin III also has other key characters introduced that are new to this iteration of the franchise, in particular Rebecca Rossellini, a rich young Italian woman who is also quite famous from her modeling, acting and business endeavors in-universe- but who is actually interested in the thrill of the heist; and Nyx, a mysterious special agent who no doubt has inspiration from a certain MI6 agent who’s famous the world over…. The character development is good, the cast is small but adequate and it gets the job done. 4.5/5 points.

Story: Both episodic and overarching in nature, Part IV chronicles Lupin’s unusual adventures and endeavors mostly in Italy, which gets him dragged into a much bigger secret than any one treasure or heist…and it’s pretty crazy. Overall, the story works, even if it does have some flaws, but most will be no doubt entertained, without spoiling anything. 4/5 points.

Themes: This show isn’t really a moral compass for anything so much as it is for pure entertainment. You could argue there’s some stuff in here about what true love actually is vs just the business of convenience,  or how one can fulfill one’s life purpose, but this might be the weakest part of the show on some level. It’s odd, considering how engaging the overall product is. 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult The Viewer: Lupin III will probably be best enjoyed by a slightly older audience, but in saying that, it is extremely accessible to pick up and enjoy, with a unique aesthetic that evokes all sorts of thoughts from high-speed police chases to the sort of mental hijinks you find in a great mystery, and even the elements of science fiction and spy flicks come in. Truly a fun watch. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.25/25 (81%): For fans of old-school heists and hijinks, creative capers and plenty of action, humor, mystery and trickery, Lupin III is a great series to pick up, and this part is a nice starting point and a fun show. Lupin has a way of stealing hearts and treasure, you know….


Like what you see? Want to talk about Lupin III? Leave a comment!

Day 8: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

The sequel to the classic.

Day 8! An entire week is already in the books, and with the second week of Advent getting underway, it’s time to look at the second Rudolph special- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. As with any successful franchise, the red-nosed reindeer spawned sequels, and this was the first one…and it was wild.

(Before you delve in, here is the link to yesterday’s piece if you missed it, which has the rest of the calendar so far linked there as well.)

The Lowdown:

Special: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

Studio/year premiered: Rankin-Bass, 1976

AniB’s thoughts: The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in animation didn’t just end with the iconic special that airs on CBS every year. No, Rankin-Bass returned to the well on a couple other occasions, and this was the first sequel- some 12 years after the first. Despite that, there are a number of odd things about it, particularly in regards to continuity that are jarring. For starters, there are precisely two characters from the original special that reprise appearances here- the titular protagonist, who is somehow magically de-aged from his appearance at the end of the first Rudolph; and Santa, who much more closely resembles his appearance from the end of 1970’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. The rest of the cast? Completely overhauled. That’s right- everyone from Hermey the dentist elf to affable prospector Yukon Cornelius, and even love interest Clarice are just…not here, which really makes this “sequel” far more of a stand-alone than any real pickup from before.

From there, things get stranger; the plot is actually about how Rudolph has to rescue the New Year’s baby- who is supposed to be Father Time’s successor. After traversing through a howling blizzard from the North Pole, our bright-nosed hero winds up in the literal desert of time (don’t ask me how this works) and is led to Father Time’s castle by an unusual escort (an affable camel with a large clock affixed where its hump normally would be), upon which the patriarch debriefs Rudolph on the situation, but not before Eon, a millennia-old giant condor/vulture attempts to scare off the red-nosed reindeer. If all of this sounds familiar…you’ve seen the special, but if it sounds bizarre, that also makes sense, because Rudolph’s Shiny New Year really is not a Christmas special in most ways, as you can see.

Why, you may be asking, is the baby New Year even in danger? The answer is rather silly: he has abnormally large ears that cause people to burst out laughing, ala Dumbo, which makes him so incredibly embarrassed and mistrustful that he wanders off somehow (and before you ask how a baby slipped away, that’s another question entirely.) The premise then takes an even more unusual turn in that Eon- the giant condor- needs the baby (who is named Happy) to stay alive for another millennium- which means this show is literally a race for a baby…which is really silly when you stop for a second to think about it. On top of it, it evolves into an island-hopping caper where Happy escapes several “time-locked islands”- and Rudolph and his friends, starting with Big Ben, a whale with a clock in between his flukes, go on a chase to rescue him, while Eon stays in pursuit as well.

I really don’t love summarizing that much of a plot in my thoughts frankly- but childhood nostalgia aside from watching these various Rankin-Bass specials- this Rudolph production still has that magical Rankin-Bass feeling, but premise-wise, it was really, really weird. It’s an anomaly of canonical sequels both in the stunning lack of continuity from the original, and the wildly unexpected locales and places it goes in pursuit of a simple and convoluted plot. But despite being patently silly, it’s still fun in its own right, has some surprisingly catchy original music that can and will get stuck in your head, and well…it’s Rudolph. Can’t complain too much!


While they normally air this frequently around Christmas Day up to New Year’s on ABC nowadays, it doesn’t have quite the cultural cache as the original or some of the other more iconic Rankin-Bass specials I already covered. So in a way, it’s not quite as hard to score this, despite lesser feelings of nostalgia.

Animation Quality: Stop-motion animation, Rankin-Bass’s so called “Animagic” technique. I’ve expounded a bit on this style of stop-motion technique the company used in my other Rankin-Bass reviews during the countdown, but I will say here that it continues to have a very unique, timeless feel, perhaps in part because all the R-B productions that use it have an incredibly uniform aesthetic? Whatever the reason, it makes these stories pop in a way it otherwise wouldn’t. 4/5 points.

Characters: As discussed in my thoughts, Rudolph is the only returning character from the original aside from Santa (who plays a relatively minor role here.) He’s still the same reindeer, though rather confident about his nose this time around, which may represent the greatest shred of continuity in this “sequel.”

The rest of the cast is an eclectic bunch Rudolph picks up on his unlikely adventure, mostly named after the island “eras” they came from, like “1776”- a dead ringer for Ben Franklin, and a caveman (“One Million B.C.). Eon, as previously mentioned, is a large bird of prey who serves as the special’s villain, though he’s really more squawk than substance in most cases. And then there’s Father Time himself…what an odd bunch. Points for creativity though! 2.75/5 points.

Story: See above for the plot, yet again. Basically, this is a “chase the treasure” plot, except it’s a baby, involves island hopping, and pits a magical reindeer against a giant vulture/condor. Once again, creative? Very. Convoluted? You bet. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: This is mostly pure entertainment, except for the recurring messaging of Rudolph that one should embrace what makes them unique in life. And also to have a happy New Year, I suppose. 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Has that Rankin-Bass nostalgia factor going along with being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in some form. Generally catchy music, a family friendly experience, and some degree of a legacy. Not bad. 5/5 points.

Overall: 16/25 (64%): Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is as strange a sequel you’ll find, but despite a bunch of strange twists, it’s still a fun, convoluted sort of adventure. It clearly doesn’t match the heights of the original, but it’s still a fun pick from the holiday library to check out.


Like what you see? Any thoughts on Rudolph’s Shiny New Year? Leave a comment!

Day 7: Holiday Hi-Jynx (Pokemon)

Pokemon’s first and most infamous Christmas special.

Another day, another Christmas special!  Today’s pick is from the first season of the Pokemon anime, an era that many people may remember fondly, and after receiving a request, it’s coming front and center. Here’s what happens when the first generation of Pokemon meets Christmas Eve: Holiday Hi-Jynx.

(The first few days of the countdown can be accessed via these links: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

The Lowdown:

Special: Holiday Hi-Jynx

Show: Pokemon

Year released: 1998

AniB’s thoughts: Crazy as it is, I’ve never actually discussed the Pokemon anime on this blog yet. It likely was the first anime for quite a few people around 20-25 years old, and in turn, it can evoke a lot of pleasant childhood memories from the franchise’s early days, be it the trading card game rush that was all the craze in elementary schools, or some of the earliest games that released for the franchise in Pokemon Blue, Red and the special Pikachu-themed one, Yellow.

Indeed, the anime is still running today, which is no small feat. It’s often panned for being extremely formulaic, but admittedly some of this is being a victim of its own success, as Pokemon is an incredibly valuable franchise, and as long as that holds true, the show will go on. And like any successful long-running shonen series, it has specials and movies- including the first of a few Christmas-themed episodes in its history, the infamous Holiday Hi-Jynx, which got banned stateside, technically.

So what was so wild and crazy that led to them pulling this episode from the air, and how did I still see it? Well, for the former, it was an accusation that Jynx (the Pokemon in the title picture) perpetuated negative stereotypes about African-Americans- a charge that frankly didn’t cross my mind when watching this episode. And for the latter, it turns out the episode still found its way around due to video and DVD releases, meaning that it certainly wasn’t as “forbidden” as they made it seem. The rest of the episode itself…isn’t really ban-worthy whatsoever. Here’s what happens, for anyone wondering what the mystery of this episode was:

It’s a Christmas special, obviously. Like most Pokemon episodes, particularly in early seasons, it involves a Team Rocket plot that just so happens to cross with the holiday and of course, the main heroes are involved. The other major plot thread is about a Jynx who got separated from Santa while polishing his boot (no, I’m not making this up), and after a wayward journey sees it in a pitched battle against Ash Ketchum and his friends, they wind up helping it, setting off a relatively quick journey to the North Pole (which looks far sunnier and bright than you’d imagine). In the meantime, Team Rocket pursues them in a Gyarados-themed pedal-power submarine, all to enact the always original scheme of stealing all of Santa’s gifts. Hijinks ensue, the plot unfolds like most standard episodes of this show (i.e. TR’s plot intially succeeds only to go belly up and they get blasted off again), and the heroes are given gifts in the true spirit of Christmas.

This really isn’t a classic holiday episode or anything, but it is the most noteworthy one from Pokemon due to its notoriety and status as one of the rare “banned” episodes. The most startling thing about this might be that Lapras (a large swimming Pokemon that looks like a Nessie)  can telepathically talk to people, or that Santa Claus very casually exists in the Poke-verse, moreso than Jynx’s supposedly offensive appearance, which seems rather tame to pull the the entire episode compared to something like Electric Soldier Porygon, which actually caused epileptic seizures due to a certain scene.

Overall, it was an enjoyable little watch that I think Pokemon fans in particular might find nostalgic. There’s a sense than if this was the following generation, the Pokemon Delibird and Stantler might have put in appearances, but with only the original 151 to pick from at the the time, they got creative (i.e. Rapidash, a horse Pokemon as a “reindeer,” and the Jynx themselves as “elves.”) This version of the North Pole is probably one of the more simplistic layouts I’ve seen between various interpretations of the place, and this iteration of Santa is kindly and affable, though a bit generic. You can find this episode online rather easily, though official sources might not list it. And finally, what of the Jynx controversy? It actually triggered the future move to recolor all of the black areas in its design to purple, not only for any future anime appearances, but also in the games. Censorship or not though, this is a curious little slice of Pokemon history and another way to feel a sillier spirit of the season.


Like what you see? Big fan of Pokemon? Know the history behind this episode? Leave a comment!